Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Law of Return, Part II -- What Israelis Can Learn From Germans

In “Democratic Norms, Diasporas, and Israel’s Law of Return,” Alexander Yacobson and Amnon Rubenstein defend Israel’s Law of Return by pointing to other states, especially Germany, that accord preference in immigration to "co-ethnics" of the majority ethnic group:

Germany, indeed, provides a well-known example. In the 1950s the Germans expanded the right to automatic citizenship to include not just refugees and displaced persons, as provided in their constitution, but also any person of German extraction from the USSR and the nations of Eastern Europe. This applied to a large population of ethnic Germans living in those areas for hundreds of years, without any civic or geographic connection with the modern German state.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the law was revised so that the eligibility for citizenship was limited to emigrants of German extraction from the former Soviet Union. Germany’s current policy toward ethnic Germans in other Eastern European states is to encourage them to remain where they are and to assist them in preserving their German culture.…in all the decades since its enactment, a half century in which Germany’s laws of repatriation granted citizenship to millions of immigrants of ethnic German extraction (along with considerable financial benefits), the laws of repatriation have never been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights (p. 7).

The authors suggest that there is (or was) a close analogy between the immigration practices of Germany and that of Israel. Both Israel and Germany recognize a right of return of its “co-ethnics,” some of whom never actually lived in the homeland, because of a sense of common nationhood. Germany was never criticized for it; why should Israel be?

There is some merit in the analogy, provided that one does not look too closely. If one does, then not only do significant differences emerge, but Germany’s policy turns out to be more liberal than Israel’s – more liberal, indeed, than the policy advocated by Israeli liberals. Once again, I draw your attention to the exhaustive article by Christian Joppke and Zeev Roshenekin, “Ethnic-Priority Immigration in Israel and Germany: Resilience Versus Demise,” which is the source of the following observations.

First: the most major difference. As Joppke and Roshenekin point out:

The German Law of Return was designed as a temporary remedy for the consequences of war and expulsion, covering only ethnic Germans caught in the Soviet Empire. By contrast, Israel’s Law of Return is a permanent, state-constituting provision, applying to every Jew in the world. In its expansiveness and state-defining quality the Israeli ethnic-priority immigration is unique in the world (p. 6).

The constitutional basis of the German law of return was Article 116 that states that “a German within the meaning of this Basic Law is a person who possesses German citizenship or who has been admitted to the territory of the German Reich within the boundaries of December 31, 1937 as a refugee or expellee of German ethnic origin or as the spouse or descendant of such person.” So this indeed recognizes the category of ethnic Germans who are not citizens as represented by the German state. and accorded privileges. But even given an expansive interpretation, Article 116, together with the 1953 Federal Expellee and Refugee Law, limited its application to ethnic Germans under communist rule. Thus, ethnic Germans who were expellees from the East, but who had ended up in Western Europe, would not qualify for “repatriation.” In fact, while couched in ethno-national language, the German “right of return” was not an open invitation to ethnic Germans to help rebuild a German commonwealth, but a humanitarian gesture to rescue co-ethnics from “oppression” under Soviet rule. The rhetoric of ethnic solidarity on the part of German conservatives was also an attempt to legitimize a German ethnic nationalism after its being discredited as a result of the Nazi period.

In any event, the “right of return” was limited spatially to those ethnic German living the Soviet Union and temporally to those who suffered as a result of the expulsions and living in a hostile environment. With more liberal emigration laws, and then the demise of the Soviet Union, the “right of return” was challenged both by liberals, who were opposed to preferential treatment of co-ethnics, and by conservatives, who feared the influx of Russians of German descent. As a result of legislation in 1993, preferential treatment in immigration was almost entirely curtailed.

Yakobson and Rubinsteins ‘s comment that “Germany’s current policy toward ethnic Germans in other Eastern European states is to encourage them to remain where they are and to assist them in preserving their German culture” is misleading. In fact, Germany has declared that the prior situation, which countenanced immigration of co-ethnics who have been discriminated against, and which was always considered as temporary, is now over.

There are obvious other differences between the German and Israel experience in favoring co-ethnics in immigration policies, some of which I mentioned in my earlier post on the Law of Return here. Germany in 1950 was not building, or even rebuilding a state, on the lands of a dispossessed people that it had just expelled, and whose resentment it had to fear. It felt no demographic nor ethnic imperative to preserve a German majority. Moreover because the absorption of ethnic Germans was often at the expense of minority groups in Germany who had lived there for generations without the benefits of citizenship, such as the Turks, the practice was much criticized by German liberals. By contrast, most Israeli liberals continue to support the law of return, even though it clearly disadvantages the native, non-Jewish citizens.

Second, while Postwar Germany felt responsible for the welfare for ethnic Germans under Soviet domination, it never ideationally considered all ethnic Germans to be potential citizens of the state, or represented by the German state – certainly not in the sense that Israel defines itself as the state of the Jews, and calls for their immigration to Israel. In Israel, the notion that Israel is a state of all its citizens, rather than of all Jews everywhere, is considered to be an extreme and "leftwing". The ethnocultural nationalist idiom underlying the Israeli law of return is based on a conception of the nation-state that even German conservatives would find problematic today.

Nothing reflects the difference between Israel and Germany more sharply than the policy of the conservative German government in 1987 to have a virtually open door policy for Russian Jewish immigration, while restricting severely the immigration of ethnic Germans. When Israel protested against the liberal German practice, a government official was quoted as saying, ““In view of her historical past, Germany does not want to close her borders for Jews from the Soviet Union.”

What, then, can Israel learn from Germany’s experience with ethnic-based preference in immigration?

First, pace Yakobson and Rubinstein, an immigration policy of favoring co-ethnics is not unproblematic and calls for solid and constant justification. If the German policy was never criticized before the European Court of Human Rights, it was criticized often by the court of public opinion in Germany, with liberals arguing for the curtailment and even elimination of ethnic preference.

Second, the justification for such preference must be in terms of “asylum” and “safe haven” rather than of “national destiny,” and the discrimination should be temporary and local (i.e., as long as the persecution exists and where it exists.) There should be no automatic right of all Jews everywhere to become Israeli citizens. Rather, Jews who are actually persecuted should be given admittance to the country and then follow a route of naturalization that is similar to that of non-Jews. (Here is not the place to discuss what even Rubinstein finds problematic: the failure of Israel to provide a naturalization route for non-Jews.) Of course, Israel should also grant asylum to other victims of persecution, but can expand its criteria in the case of Jewish and Palestinian communities.

Third, following Germany’s example, Israel should recognize its special responsibility to the Palestinian homeland community that it turned into a minority in its land, and repatriate, into Israel proper, Palestinian refugees who are suffering, and compensate others who are not. No doubt this will wait until a Palestinian state arises and a peace treaty is signed; surely, some of the sting of ethnic-preference in immigration will be eliminated when there is a Palestinian state that implements a similar policy. Once again, arguments against such a policy citing historical precedents about populations transfer from the Postwar period are, frankly, not relevant in the case where a national majority was barred from returning to its homeland. That will be the subject of another post.

In short -- far from showing that Israel’s ethnic-based immigration policies are justifiable, the German experience in ethnic-preference calls into question those policies,and points to the direction in which Israel's own immigration policy should move.

In learning how to relate to the victims of our policies, we Israelis have a lot to learn from Germany.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"Wiping Palestine off the Map"

Coming posts for the Magnes Zionist include a continuing series of responses to arguments on behalf of the Law of Return. I promised that two weeks ago, and I have yet to get back to it, but I will.

But first, a reply to a comment to A Talmudic Precedent for a Just Solution to the Israel Palestinian Conflict that was posted when I was recently stranded in cyberspace.

I wrote in that post

"...even though one hundred years of Zionism teaches us that the Palestinians have much more to fear from the Zionists than vice-versa. Only one side has ever actually wiped the other’s country off the map – and it wasn’t the Palestinian side."

I am glad to take the opportunity to clarify what I meant by the assertion that Israel wiped Palestine off the map. I was not trying to compete with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who said that Israel should vanish from the pages of time (which apparently did not mean that the Israeli people should be obliterated. He seems to have been speaking, Reagan-like, of regime change that would replace the current state of Israel with another state. As far as I know, he did not call for the death or expulsion of Israeli Jews.)

What I meant was that the State of Israel, during and after the 1947-8 war, deliberatedly changed the map of Palestine when it systematically destroyed Palestinian villages, renamed existing Arab place names with Hebrew names, and diminished the Palestinian presence in Palestine by expulsion of Palestinians and mass immigrations of Jews.

What I did not mean was that Israel nuked Palestine or mass-murdered Palestinians. "To wipe a country off the map" means simply that one country is totally (or almost totally) replaced by another country. And indeed, if you examine maps of Palestine before 1947 and maps of Israel after 1952, say, you will find radical alterations.

Presumably, part of the reason why the Zionists erased the Palestinian presence was to present Israel as a state that arose, if not ex nihilo, than out of a desert, with only a few picturesque native villages. That way, the natives who had been expelled would have no claim to places which no longer existed, and Zionists could argue that there never was a significant Palestinian presence in Palestine.

Now, it is true that many states wipe their predecessors off the map when they become independent and conquer territory. Lviv was Lwow, and before that, Lemberg, and before that Lwow, etc., depending upon who was in charge. And states do that mostly for the same reason that Israel did; to obliterate the immediate past. Israel went further than this and literally obliterated villages and neighborhoods, but other states have done this, too. I am not, obviously referring to all of Palestine, but only to that part of mandatory Palestine that was under Israel's control by virtue of the armistic agreements.

Of course, not only were villages destroyed, but sites were renamed with Hebrew names. Sometimes, the official Hebrew names never stuck. Few people even in Jerusalem know that the official Hebrew name of the neighborhood of Baka is "Geulim", and that the post office there is called the Geulim post office. Everybody refers to it as Baka, perhaps because the original Arab neighborhood was used to settle Arabic-speaking Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

As for the claim that there was no country of Palestine -- well, that is really silly. There was no modern state of Palestine, but the peoples of Palestine (including the small Jewish communities) had every reason to expect that in time there would be a state, and that given the principle of self-determination, that state would have the character of the majority of its inhabitants. This happened throughout the middle east, and indeed, throughout the world, with the breakup of empires.

Anyway, for those interested in pursuing this subject beyond the information on Palestinian websites, one can consult Meron Benvenisti's Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948, and Salman Abu Sitta's Atlas of Palestine 1948, if you can get a hold on it.

And please look at the website of those Israelis who are trying to bring to the Israeli consciousness the tragedy of the Nakba, the Israeli organization Zochrot. One of their activities is to go around the country posting signs with the old Arabic place names, sometimes in English and transliterated Hebrew.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Birthright" Students Cancel Tour to Hebron After Threats by Birthright Staffer

The Magnes Zionist has learned that a group of participants on the current Birthright tour, which ended today, cancelled their plans to tour Hebron on Friday, after they were threatened by a Birthright staffer. The staffer said that if they went to Hebron on the tour, arranged by the Bnei Avraham organization, they would lose retroactively funding for their trip.

Birthright/Taglit is a program that offers free trips to American Jewish youth who have never spent serious time in Israel before.

The threat seems to be a further step down the path for Birthright, which initially said that it was not responsible for what participants do after the tour is over, then denied Birthright funding to a participant who was planning to visit the West Bank with the organization "Birthright Unplugged," and now has told its participants that retroactively they will lose funding for their trip by going on an a three-hour tour.

It should be pointed out that many Birthright participants stay on in Israel after the tour is over, and they are not made to sign statements pledging they will not cross the green line. On the contrary, many end up visiting Jewish settlements.

More on this story will be forthcoming. But I am quite disturbed by it. Barely a week after I defended Birthright, I see that it is being captured by the right.

The tour sponsored by Bnei Avraham has been given to thousands of Israelis and foreigners of all persuasions. It shows how the Palestinian neighborhoods bordering the Jewish settlers have been turned into ghost towns. For pictures see the post below on Hebron then and now.

I hope that Birthright will offer a clarification. I know that I will raise a stink over it at my local Hillel (which is not affiliated with Birthright, I hasten to add)

Update on August 28:

I have learned that the staffer belonged to "Israel Outdoors" which is run by a group called Tlalim.

Once again, there are many organizations that run "Birthright" trips (free trips to Israel for Jewish youth), and they differ considerably from each other.

I am hoping for a response from the organization, and when I get it, I will publish it here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Is “Friedmannism” Good for the Jews?

Prof. Daniel Friedmann, the conservative Israeli Attorney General, has been waging a war against the Israeli Supreme Court, which he considers too leftist, elitist, and activist. In the US he would probably be considered a “strict constructionist” on constitutional matters, but since Israel lacks a constitution (and hence is not a constitutional democracy), he simply should be labeled, "anti-judiciary." He certainly disagrees with the philosophy of ha-qol shafit, “Everything is subject to judicial review,” which was the philosophy of the former Supreme Court Chief, Aharon Barak, and, apparently, his successor, Dorit Beinisch. Friedmann would curtail the power of the judiciary and put it in its place.

Of course, that is not how he presents it. On the contrary, he feels that his “reforms” will help restore confidence in a judicial system that has suffered because of its importune interference in governmental and parliamentary decisions -- especially through the many appeals to the High Court of Justice (one of the functions played by the Supreme Court.)

Friedmann is particularly incensed that the High Court interfered with the Intifada Law passed by the Knesset, which limited the ability of Palestinian civilians to sue Israel for damages caused by the IDF, and forced the government to change the route of the so-called Security Fence.

But do not take my word for it -- the best introduction to “Friedmannism” is the long Haaretz interview that Friedmann gave to Orit Shohat and Zev Segal last Shabbat .

Needless to say, liberals are up in arms, and Haaretz has been weighing into Friedmann almost daily – this time, the publisher Amos Schocken, no less, has written a nasty op-ed. This follows on the tail of an open letter against Friedmann signed by twenty-two law professors protesting his “reforms.” In the absence of a constitution in Israel, and a tradition of protecting individual rights, there is a real danger that, under the right circumstances, a Friedmann can push forth “reforms” that would, for example, sharply limit appeals to the High Court of Justice. Anything that the Knesset or the government would define as a security issue would not be subject to judicial appeal.

Is Friedmannism good for the Jews? In other words, does it advance the cause of justice and morality in Israel and in the world, the cause of decent people everywhere? (That’s how I understand the question, “Is it good for the Jews?”)

The answer, surprisingly, is not clear – even for liberals.

On the one hand, the Israeli judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, has often been the only voice for law, justice and morality in this country. It has saved Israel from violating people’s rights more than once. And by the way, I am not merely talking about the rights of the Palestinians. On several occasions the High Court interfered against the government to protect the violation of the rights of the Gazan settlers from an unfair compensation deal. In Israel, where democracy is misunderstood as “majoritarianism,” the Supreme Court is vital in safeguarding civil rights.

On the other hand, as has been convincingly showed by David Kramer in The Justice of Occupation and by Norman Finkelstein in Beyond Chutzpah, the High Court of Justice has almost always deferred to the government’s “security arguments,” even when those arguments mask immoral and rapacious actions, such as the current land grab on the West Bank, under the rubric of the “security fence” (a subject for an upcoming post.)

Yes, Palestinians indeed have the right to appeal to the Israeli High Court of Justice – and that right is trumpeted throughout the world by Israel and its defenders, such as Alan Dershowitz, as an example of its enlightened policies. Yet those appeals are by and large rejected by the High Court, which has a pretty awful record on the rights of the Palestinians under occupation (only slightly better for Israeli Arabs.) Once again, there is a prima facie appearance of impartiality and fairness, but in reality, the High Court serves well the interest of the state, and the interest of the Occupation..

So, wouldn’t it be better if Daniel Friedmann removed the fig leaf of Israeli democracy, by curtailing the authority of the judiciary, and thereby exposing Israel’s “nakedness” for the world to see?

I think not. I don’t place much hope in the world intervening in Israel to protect the rights of minorities, Palestinian and otherwise – even if things get much worse here. For all its faults, the Israeli Supreme Court can on occasion do the right thing. If one Palestinian village or family can sleep a little easier at night because of that, then, under the current situation, it would be better to support the judiciary, and especially the Supreme Court, against Friedmannism.

-- even if it allows us Israelis to sleep a little easier each night, which we don't deserve. Who knows? Maybe with a better night’s rest, we may wake up and do the right thing, ourselves.

The Supreme Court certainly won’t do it for us.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Did the Magnes Zionist Scoop

Earlier today, after seeing some posters near my apartment of Hebron, I went to the website listed on the posters,, and posted some pictures on this blog.

Ten minutes ago, YNET wrote a piece on the posters, and, surprise, the same pictures appeared on its site-- not, I may mention, the only pictures on the

Hmmm....judge for yourself here. In my post below, I wrote that no commentary is necessary. That may be, but it sure helps to read the YNET article below.

Hebron before and after

Naif Hashalmon, a Palestinian photographer, documented the busy streets of his hometown, Hebron, during the '90s. This year, Activestills photographers returned to the city and documented the deserted streets. Hebron as 'a microcosm of the occupation'

Hebron's streets and markets that during the '90s served as a commercial center for the residents of West Bank, has since turned into a ghost town. Massive emigration out of the city, hundreds of businesses closed, and the almost complete ban on Palestinian traffic, drained the city's livelihood.

A new exhibit displayed throughout the streets of Jerusalem features the work of Palestinian photographer Naïf Hotelman, a Hebron native who documented life in the city during the '90s and the work of Activestills photographers who shot the same streets in 2007.

Nine activists were detained by police for pasting the photos on walls around Jerusalem.

"In the pictures from the '90s you see the merchants in the marketplace, the open stores and the lively streets of Hebron," said Karen Manor from Activestills. "We returned to the same spots this year but what we saw was completely different." The Activestills team recreated the angles, location and distance of Hashalmon's shots. "The differences are harsh," Manor said.

"Hebron is a microcosm of the occupation," said Manor. "It is a ghost town, with no Palestinian traffic. Houses and stores sealed and racist graffiti sprayed on the walls." Activestills photographers said that during their visit to the city, they encountered many army posts and soldiers and a few settlers, but "hardly any Palestinians."

Amos Goldberg of the Bnei Avraham (Sons of Abraham) group explained that the cooperation with Activestills was brought about by the reality in the city. "Our goal is to end the city's occupation and allow the Arab and Jewish resident a respectable existence."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hebron Then and Now

As some of my readers know, I have been urging any of you who come to Israel/Palestine to visit Hebron to see for yourself what has happened there.

The pictures below were pasted as posters on some Jerusalem streets in the last few days (including a block from where I live.) They show how the Arab market place in Hebron has been turned into a ghost town in order to allow the settlers to grab more property (in Israel, "landgrab" and "security" seem to be synonymous).








No comments are necessary. More pictures are to be found here. (Unfortunately, the English link is not working, but some of the webpages have English on them.)

Israel Racism Watch -- How the Israel Land Authority and Ateret Kohahim Are Grabbing Palestinian Land in Jerusalem

According to Meron Rappoport reporting in today’s Haaretz on line here in Hebrew, and here in English, an appeal was presented two weeks ago to the High Court against the Israel Land Authority (ILA) for stripping the Palestinian owners of thirty dunams of land in East Jerusalem, and leasing it “for agricultural purposes” to Ateret Kohanim, the extremist settler’s organization that seizes control of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem for Jewish settlement. The lease was effected without a tender; Ateret Kohanim has no experience in agriculture. According to the appeal, the clerk in the ILA acted in conjunction with Ateret Kohanim in order to block the plans of the owners, the Arab Hotels Company, to begin the construction of a hotel complex on the area.

The land was formally expropriated only this March, forty years after the government announced its intention to do so. The former minister of the treasury executed the expropriation as “a purchase in the public interest.” According to the suit now before the High Court, the expropriation was done “for a goal that was extranenous, inappropriate, racist, and discriminatory…”

The land was purchased in the 1960s by the Arab Hotels Company when East Jerusalem was in Jordanian hands. Following the 1967 war, the Israeli Treasury announced its intention to expropriate the land, but the announcement was never carried out, and the courts have recognized the Arab company twice over the years as the owners. Seven years ago, the company presented plans to build a hotel and conference center, a plan that was supported by then Jerusalem mayor, Ehud Olmert. Yet at a certain stage, according to the company’s lawyers, Ateret Kohanim also presented a plan for a Jewish neighborhood to be built on the same land, and the ILA awarded the land for planing to that organization, backed by the American millionaire Irwin Moscowitz. The owners appealed to the Jerusalem planning board, which told them that the Ateret Cohanim plan had been shelved.

In the meantime, a Palestinian squatter, at the behest of Ateret Kohanim, has been staying on the land. A Jerusalem court ordered the squatter to be evicted, at the request of the Palesitnian owners, but Amidar, in the name of the ILA, filed a suit to block the eviction.

In the present suit, the government claims to owns 20% of the land because of the Present Absentee law [a law which allowed the government to expropriate territory in which the owners were not present at the date the law was passed], whereas the Arab company claims that the land was purchased from the original owner (the Jerusalem Mufti) prior to 1967. The ILA claims that it has been leasing the land to Ateret Kohanim for years. The rent is approximately 10 dollars a dunam, a ridiculously low price for that area.

Relying on past decisions of the High Court that determined that if the state does not realize a declared expropriation for many years, the expropriation can be cancelled. The Arab company now is asking the court to issue a “conditional order” requesting from the state why it does not cancel the expropriation. Even the state admits that if it owns only 20% of the land and cannot explain how it has rented land that does not belong to it to Ateret Kohahim

The Haaretz editorial lambasting the state can be found here.

Voting Prof. Nadia El-Haj Off the Island

Paula Stern, a Barnard alumna, has organized a petition campaign to try to block Professor Nadia El-Haj’s professor’s tenure bid at her alma mater. This is the first paragraph of the petition:

To: Columbia University/Barnard College

As concerned alumni and friends of Barnard and Columbia, we urge you to deny tenure to Nadia Abu El Haj, a professor of anthropology whose claim to scholarly recognition is based on a single, profoundly flawed book.
That’s about as far as I read before I wondered how low my graduate alma mater had sunk in handing out degrees to people who haven’t a clue about tenure, and how the tenure process works. Does Paula Stern really think that Columbia/Barnard is going to influenced by an online petition campaign, ribono shel olam?

Stern and the other signatories should be intellectually flogged for presuming to influence a tenure decision. I don’t care if the professor in question is a Holocaust-denier, a Nakba-denier or – well, pick your own intellectual sin. Alumni and friends can express their dismay over a tenure decision or their hope for a reversal of one.They can be upset about the views of a controversial faculty member, and they can stop contributing money to their alma mater. But for outsiders – and in tenure decisions, anybody outside the regular channels, even other faculty members, is an “outsider” -- to appeal to a university to deny someone tenure is outrageous. There is a process, and that process has to be respected.

The tenure process includes evaluating a candidate’s teaching, research, and service to the university. Letters from experts are solicited, a departmental subcommittee is formed, tenure is voted on at various levels, etc. There is always the delicate issue of balancing the integrity of the tenure process with the candidate’s right to know the reasons for her approval or rejection But tenure decisions are not public trials or elections.

How does one explain an appeal like Stern’s? Well, part of the responsibility has to placed at the doorsteps of the universities, which are becoming increasingly like vocational schools, and which never bother to explain to their students some of their values, like academic freedom and tenure.

In this case, De Paul University may share some of the blame because of its flawed tenure process in the case of Finkelstein and Larudee. Protestations of the De Paul president notwithstanding, there is a strong suspicion that the school was influenced by the Dershowitz campaign against tenure– if only because they did not like the publicity for the school. But even if that is unjust – and I am prepared to give De Paul the benefit of the doubt – the president’s own letter implies a flawed process, as I wrote several months ago here. In that post I called for an American Association of University Professors’ investigation, were the president not to clarify his remarks. I hope that such an investigation will take place.

In any event, one would have thought that Ms. Stern would have learned something from the Finkelstein and Larudee case, where the De Paul president explicitly criticized outsiders for interfering in the process. But they apparently feel that the tenure process is like a reality-show where viewers call in to vote people off the island.

I want to stress that even if everything in Stern’s petition is absolutely correct – and it is apparently full of distortions, half-truths, and falsehoods, as Richard Silverstein has already pointed out – she and her cosignatories are way out of line in their campaign.

My own BA is from Yale, and I would like to think that my own alma mater wouldn’t have alumni like this. But who am I kidding? In a country where college professors are often treated like personal shoppers, and universities like Walmarts, what can one expect from the consumers?

...And let's not forget l'affaire Juan Cole

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Elul/Shabbat Short Takes

A family weekend begins this afternoon, and so I will be away until Saturday Night. I would like to wish my readers, of whatever religion or ideology, a Shabbat Shalom.

Yesterday was the first day of the month of Elul, the final month of the Jewish calendar before Rosh Hashanah (the New Year). Elul is traditionally a month of heshbon nefesh, of spiritual reckoning. That will be the theme of many of my posts in the coming month.

Today I just want to draw your attention to a major population survey of the West Bank settlers that Haaretz is publishing. The translation into English isn't available, but keep your eyes open. Here is the Hebrew for one of the articles

Some of the statistics are disturbing -- if we are talking about reckoning, consider the following statistic: most of the West Bank settlements are outside (to the East) of Israel's West Bank wall, although most of the West Bank settlers are inside the Wall. That is because most of them live in the settlement blocs close to the Green Line. But anybody who thinks that it will be easy to remove the settlements beyond the West Bank wall is kidding himself.

Of course, I don't think anybody is moving, so the point is theoretical.

The other reckoning is that the fastest growing segment of west bank settlers -- in fact, the fast growing population in Israel today -- is the haredi (ultra-orthodox population.) They are not considered ideological settlers -- they move to the communtities because of cheap mortgages and heavy government subsidies -- but they will also be hard to move.

I lead off with that news-item because this morning the headline of Yediot screamed: "Scoop! Abu Mazen and Olmert are negotiating secretly the final status". Let's see...two weak politicians who will not be able to conclude an agreeement, and if they manage to do that, they will not be able to carry it out, and if they manage against all odds to that, it won't hold.

At least I didn't buy Yediot...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Back to School -- Israel Advocacy 101

Welcome, returning students for another year of Israel Advocacy. Remember – college campuses are intellectual war zones where you have to battle against Palestinians and their supporters, including all those anti-Israel, leftwing Jewish professors. Prof. Haber is here to help you answer the critics.

Remember Rule Number 1 of Israel Advocacy: Always defend Israel’s policies as moral and reasonable, no matter what they are. When Israel changes its policies, as a result of international criticism, or legal action taken against it, defend both the changed policy and the original policy. When all else fails, talk about suicide bombing and Qassam missiles, and how Israel lives in a tough neighborhood.

Here is a concrete example.

1) The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had a policy called by the soldiers “The Neighbor Practice” (Nohal Shakhen), in which Palestinians were coerced into being used as human shields for IDF soldiers when entering houses suspected of harboring militants. One Palestinian was killed in this manner. Somebody questions you about this policy.

Advocacy Response: Talk about suicide bombings of innocent Israeli civilians, and mention that the IDF is the most moral army in the world. Explain that if anything happened to the Palestinians, it was the responsibility of the terrorists inside.

2) It is pointed out to you that as a result of criticism, the IDF changed the policy to what soldiers called, “The Voluntary Neighbor Practice.” This, too, led to civilians being hurt, and was criticized by human rights groups inside and outside of Israel as unethical and as violating the code of war. As a result of legal action taken by the aforementioned human rights groups, the Israeli High Court instructed the Israel Defence Forces to suspend the “Neighbor Practice.”

Advocacy Response: Hold up the High Court decision as an example of Israeli democracy. (Reread your Dershowitz here.) When asked about the previous practice that has been declared illegal, defend it by referring to 1) above. If you have to mention the human rights groups that brought the suit, accuse them of leftwing bias and praise the Israeli ones as shining examples of Israel democracy. When all else fails, talk about suicide bombing and Qassam missiles.

3) According to the IDF soldiers cited on the front page of today's Maariv, the illegal “Neighbor Practice” continues, in defiance of the ruling of the High Court. Only now it is called “Outstretched Arm.” The difference now is that the Palestinian civilian cannot be a neighbor but has to live in the house, and once he is out of the house, cannot be sent back in. But the soldiers often ignore these provisions. The IDF spokesman responds to the news report that when that happens, the IDF investigates.

Advocacy Response: OK, this is a bit tricky, but here is how you handle it. First, say that you have not read the press report, that you want to investigate the story, and that you will get back to the person you are talking with when you have done so. (Of course, you shouldn’t.) If the person is insistent, defend the new practice using 1). Spend a lot of time talking about suicide bombings and Qassam missiles. Oh, and tell them that the IDF regularly investigates cases of abuse. After all, it is the most moral army in the world.

4) You are asked, “What happens if human rights groups successfully petition the High Court about the new policy”? To answer this, go back to 2). And don’t forget suicide bombings and the Qassam missiles. Oh, and you can throw in the withdrawal from Gaza.

You see how simple that was!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mearsheimer's Letter to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Following the Cancellation of His Appearance

In case you haven't heard, Walt and Mearsheimer were invited and then disinvited to speak before the Chicago Council of Global Affairs. Their talk was cancelled as a result of pro-Israel pressure, apparently by people who threatened the Chicago Council with reprisals. If this is true, then I am hoping that the heavy-handed actions of the sonei yisrael (roughly translated: the Israel Lobby) will help boost the sales of the distinguished authors' book against the heavy-handed actions of the sonei Yisrael.

I am cutting and pasting this from Phil Weiss's website because I wanted to save my readers from having to click. But Mondoweiss and Muzzlewatch should get the credit for bringing the story to the attention of decent people everywhere.

This news overshadows my post below on the Law of Return, but please take a minute to look at that, too!

August 5, 2007

[Addressed, individually, to board members of the Council, and to members of Council committees]

We are writing to bring to your attention a troubling incident involving the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. We do so reluctantly, as we have both enjoyed our prior associations with the Council and we have great respect for its aims and accomplishments. Nonetheless, we felt this was an episode that should not pass without comment.

On September 4, 2007, our book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, one of the most highly respected publishers in the United States. Through our publisher, the Council issued an invitation for both of us to speak at a session on September 27, 2007. We were delighted to accept, as each of us had spoken at the Council on several occasions in the past and knew we would attract a diverse and well-informed audience that would engage us in a lively and productive discussion.

On July 19, while discussing the details of our visit with Sharon Houtkamp, who was handling the arrangements at the Council, we learned that the Council had already received a number of communications protesting our appearance. We were not particularly surprised by this news, as we had seen a similar pattern of behavior after our original article on “The Israel Lobby” appeared in the London Review of Books in March 2006. We were still looking forward to the event, however, especially because it gave us an opportunity to engage these issues in an open forum.

Then, on July 24, Council President Marshall Bouton phoned one of us (Mearsheimer) and informed him that he was cancelling the event. He said he felt “extremely uncomfortable making this call” and that his decision did not reflect his personal views on the subject of our book. Instead, he explained that his decision was based on the need “to protect the institution.” He said that he had a serious “political problem,” because there were individuals who would be angry if he gave us a venue to speak, and that this would have serious negative consequences for the Council. “This one is so hot,” Marshall maintained, that he could not present it at a Council session unless someone from “the other side”—such as Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League—was on stage with us. At the very least, he needed to present “contending viewpoints.” But he said it was too late to try to change the format, as the fall schedule was being finalized and there would not be sufficient time to arrange an alternate date. He showed little interest in doing anything with us in 2008 or beyond.

Several comments are in order regarding this situation.

First, since the publication of our original article on the Israel lobby, we have appeared either singly or together at a number of different venues, including Brown University, the Council on Foreign Relations, Columbia University, Cornell University, Emerson College, the Great Hall at Cooper Union, Georgetown University, the National Press Club, the Nieman Fellows Program at Harvard University, the University of Montana, the Jewish Community Center in Newton, Massachusetts, and Congregation Kam Isaiah Israel in Chicago. In all but one of these venues we appeared on our own, i.e., without someone from the “other side.” As one would expect, we often faced vigorous questions from members of the audience, which invariably included individuals who disagreed in fundamental ways with some of our arguments. Nevertheless, the back-and-forth at each of these events was always civil, and quite a few participants said that they benefited from listening to us and to our interlocutors.

Second, the Council has recently welcomed speakers who do represent a “contending viewpoint,” and they have appeared on their own. Consider the case of Michael Oren, an Israeli-American author, who appeared at the Council on February 8, 2007, to talk about “The Middle East and the United States: A Long and Complicated Relationship.” Oren has a different view of U.S. Middle East policy than we do; indeed, he gave a keynote address at AIPAC’s annual policy conference this past spring that directly challenged our perspective. We believe it was entirely appropriate for the Council to have invited him to speak, and without having a representative from an opposing group there to debate him. The Council has also welcomed a number of other speakers on this general topic in recent years, such as Dennis Ross, Max Boot and Rashid Khalidi, and none of their appearances included someone representing a “contending view.”

One might argue that our views are too controversial to be presented on their own. However, they are seen as controversial only because some of the groups and individuals that we criticized in our original article have misrepresented what we said or leveled unjustified charges at us personally—such as the baseless claim that we (or our views) are anti-Semitic. The purpose of these charges, of course, is to discourage respected organizations like the Council from giving us an audience, or to create conditions where they feel compelled to include “contending views” in order to preserve “balance” and to insulate themselves from external criticism.

In fact, our views are not extreme. Our book does not question Israel’s right to exist and does not portray pro-Israel groups in the United States as some sort of conspiracy to “control” U.S. foreign policy. Rather, it describes these groups and individuals—both Jewish and gentile—as simply an effective special interest group whose activities are not substantially different from groups like the NRA, the farm lobby, the AARP, or other ethnic lobbies. Its activities, in other words, are as American as apple pie, although we argue that its influence has helped produce policies that are not in the U.S. national interest. We also suggest that these policies have been unintentionally harmful to Israel as well, and that a different course of action would be better for both countries. It is not obvious to us why such views could not be included in the Council’s schedule.

Although we find it somewhat unseemly to refer to our own careers, it is perhaps worth noting that we are both well-established figures with solid mainstream credentials. We are fortunate to occupy chaired professorships at distinguished universities, and to have been elected members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. We have both held important leadership positions at Chicago or Harvard, each of us serves on the editorial boards of several leading foreign policy journals (such as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy), and we have both done consulting work for U.S. government agencies. Given our backgrounds, the idea that it would be inappropriate for us to appear on our own at a Council session seems far-fetched.

Finally, and most importantly, we believe that the decision to cancel our appearance is antithetical to the principle of open discussion that underpins American democracy, and that is so essential for maximizing the prospects that our country pursues a wise foreign policy. In essence, we believe this is a case in which a handful of people who disagree with our views have used their influence to intimidate Marshall into rescinding the Council’s invitation to us, so as to insure that interested members will not hear what we have to say about Israeli policy, the U.S. relationship with Israel, and the lobby itself. This is not the way we are supposed to address important issues of public policy in the United States, and it is surely not the way the Council normally conducts its business. This is undoubtedly why Marshall, who is a very smart and decent man, felt so uncomfortable calling us to say that the event had been cancelled. He knew this decision was contrary to everything that the Council is supposed to represent.

The Chicago Council is obviously under no obligation to grant us a venue, and we are not writing in an attempt to reverse this decision. But given the importance of the issues that are raised in our book, we are genuinely disappointed that we will not have the benefit of open exchange with the Council’s members, including those who might want to challenge our arguments or conclusions. The United States and its allies—including Israel—face many challenging problems in the Middle East, and our country will not be able to address them intelligently if we cannot have an open and civilized discussion about U.S. interests in the region, and the various factors that shape American policy there. Regrettably, the decision to cancel our appearance has made that much-needed conversation more difficult.


John J. Mearsheimer

R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science

University of Chicago

On the Israeli Law of Return -- An Examination of the Israeli Neocon Arguments in its Favor -- Part I

In 1950 the Israeli Knesset passed the Law of Return, which begins, “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh.” As Joppke and Roshenhek (2001) point out, the Law of Return is not an immigration law that confers upon Jews the right to be citizens of Israel; rather it recognizes their natural right to be citizens. It is part and parcel of the view of Israel as a state of the Jewish people who are its actual and potential citizens; it is a constitutive law, and not merely a law that favors one ethnic group over the other in immigration policy. The law applies not only to Jews who have suffered from discrimination or are refugees, but also to those who wish to settler in Israel for ideological, i.e., Jewish reasons. It follows from the two central doctrines of political Zionism: that the natural place for Jews is the State of Israel, and that a viable Jewish state can be attained through massive immigration. This second doctrine points to one of the main goals of the Law of Return – to ensure a solid Jewish majority, because of the recognition that Palestine is inhabited and claimed by another people, the Palestinians.

This last point is important. The Law of Return is not only directed towards the Jewish people; it is directed against the Palestinian people, including those that are citizens of Israel. The Law of Return was used to legitimize the massive immigration of Jews from Muslim countries during the early years of the state, and the waves of Russian immigration (of Jews and, sometimes, non-Jews, for reasons that I will go into elsewhere) in later years, in order to give Israeli Jews and their supporters the demographic edge. While Israel does recognize non-Jews as citizens, and in principle, the realms in which non-Jewish citizens are discriminated against by law are limited (though significant), the Law of Return has been the positive expression of the desire to deprive a homeland nationality of its rightful patrimony. One cannot discuss the Law of Return independently of the law against the return of the Palestinians to their homeland – not their ancestral homeland, but their actual homeland; or independently of the glaring failure to provide for the naturalization of non-Jews.

In recent years, under increasing attack from liberals, the Israeli Law of Return has been defended by a succession of Israeli neocons. Thus, Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubinstein, in “Democratic Norms, Diasporas, and Israel’s Law of Return" have marshalled a variety of considerations, if not always to defend the law of return from its critics, then at least to remove the stigma of Israel being uniquely discriminatory. Similar arguments have been offered in a recent article for the Chronicle of Higher Education by Gadi Taub, Liberalism, Democracy, and the Jewish State

In the days to come, I will examine two familiar arguments in favor of the Law of Return that are frequently posed by its defenders. The first is the “lots-of-countries-discriminate on-the-basis-of-ethnicity” argument, which is taken as a sign that discriminating in favor of a particular ethnic group is not so bad and maybe even justifiable. The second is the “lots-of-countries-discriminate-but-only-Israel-is-criticized” argument, which allows that there may be something illiberal with the Law of Return, but that since the phenomenon of preferring one ethnic group over other vis-à-vis immigration, is widespread, it is unfair to criticize Israel.

My examination of these arguments will show that they are both without merit. A comparison of the way Israel discriminates in its Law of Return, with the way that other countries who discriminate do so in their immigration policies, will show that the case of Israel is uniquely objectionable. As Joppke and Roshenhek (2001) write: “In its expansiveness and state-defining quality, the Israeli ethnic-priority immigration is unique in the world.” It is thus misleading for Israeli neocons to appeal superficially to other countries such as Germany, Ireland, Finland, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Croatia as company for Israel. An examination of each of these countries shows that the circumstances and justification of their ethnic-preferential immigrations laws are vastly different from those of the State of Israel – and in some cases their laws are no more justifiable than that of Israel. And in many of their cases, the pressure has been to liberalize their immigration policies.

Before I begin, I would just like to stake out my own position. As a liberal who has no problem with a hybrid nationalism that has civil and ethno-cultural elements, I can imagine some moral justification for a state favoring one group or groups (e.g., homeland ethnic groups) over others in immigration policy –– but the justification had better be a good one and the preference must be narrowly drawn, and balanced. The present policy actively discriminates in favor of Jews and against non-Jews. Moreover, as I will argue in a subsequent post, the Law of Return faces a problem that is, I believe, uniquely Jewish – the difficulty of drawing parameters of who is part of the group. To some extent all groups have issues when they draw up membership criteria. But the Jewish group, because of the religio-ethnic component, is uniquely problematic.

Former Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami Nixes the US Peace Conference

In an opinion piece published in Yediot today (and not yet translated into English for, if it will be at all), former minister Shlomo Ben-Ami criticizes the Bush-Rice peace initiative. Though calling it "logical" because it cuts out the intermediate steps and focuses on the final status, he said that it would not work because it excludes Hamas and the Saudis from the negotiations. He also implies that the US accepts the Israeli perspective and that until the US becomes an honest broker, no headway can be made via Washington.

Of especial interest was Ben Ami's remark that Palestinian militias will not lay down their arms until they see a Palestinian state rise on the 67 borders. And that if the US wants to bolster Palestinian moderates, the way to do so is to give them that state.

Of course, all the above is obvious -- what is interesting is Ben Ami's evolution since his party was voted out of power, and he left the government. While everybody talks about the shift in Israel to the right following the breakdown of Oslo, Ben Ami has gone to the left. Sure, he still believes in the Clinton peace plan, and so that doesn't really put him on the left. Still, if anybody wants to see how reasonable Ben Ami can sound, read his post-Oslo book, Scars of Wars, Wounds of Peace. And if you don't have time for that, his Democracy Now "debate" with Norm Finkelstein, available on Norm's website here, looks almost like a lovefest. (In my opinion, it is a must read for Finkelstein-bashers -- you see how reasonable and temperate Finkelstein can be. Actually, I think he was a little too easy on Ben Ami, but that is the subject for another post.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Counter the $60 Million Gift to Birthright (Taglit) With a $60 Gift to "Encounter"

According to Haaretz today, Sheldon Adelson, a wealthy Jewish republican, has earmarked 60 million dollars for Birthright (Taglit), the program that gives a free trip to Israel for Jewish college students. Read about it here.

As a college professor on a major university campus, I have been following Birthright from its inception. I endorsed the program then, and I endorse it now, with reservations. I know that some have been afraid that Birthright brainwashes college students into mindless "advocates" for Israel, i.e., rightwing zombies spouting some Dershowitz or Bard nonsense. Tain't necessarily so.

To do that effectively, you would need to get the students way before college.

The truth is that Birthright hits different people in different ways; in fact, there is not one Birthright program, but there are several, run by different organizations with different agendas.

The good news about Birthright is that many people return from it energized about Israel, but not always in a mindless way. Take an intelligent college student and try to brainwash her, and she will know what is going on. Have her come back to campus and engage her about the Palestinians, and it will be easier than somebody who is apolitical and apathetic.

Still, I have reservations, and that is because the "sophisticated" Birthright programs -- like the adult UJC "missions" they try to emulate -- expose students to a wide variety of opinions within the Jewish consensus, from the Meretz left to the settler right. They do not meet with human rights activists (though they may meet with activists for Jewish minorities Ethiopian Jews, etc.), and they do not meet with people outside the political Zionist camp.

Even a program run by an Ivy League Hillel like Yale two years ago had students meet with liberal Zionist dinosaurs like Amos Oz and Aharon Barak. Hardly cutting edge.

So how can we counter those Jewish Republican dollars? By backing programs that take college students to the West Bank and show them what life is really about behind the separation wall.

One such excellent program is Encounter. No, this is not Birthright Unplugged, which also does a good job, and is worthy of your support. Encounter takes students who are spending a year studying in Israeli institutions, universities, yeshivas, etc. and gets them invited into the homes of Palestinians on the West Bank so that they can see for themselves the effects of the occupation.

You won't see people like Adelson forking over money for justice or understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. But you and I should. And this is a great program. You can donate to Encounter here, and they accept Paypal.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Zionism without a Jewish State

There is a long tradition of non-statist zionism, from the cultural zionism of Ahad ha-Am (who at times seems to have embraced the idea of a Jewish state, provided that it would not be devoid of Jewish cultural content), to the vehemently non-statist zionism of Judah Magnes.

Does it makes sense to talk of non-statist zionism now that there is a Jewish state, or at least a state that likes to call itself Jewish?

I submit that it does, and in fact, I would argue (if I had the time) that Israel would do well to adopt non-statist Zionism.

But first, some assumptions. I call them assumptions, because they are mostly articles of faith. And what I mean by that is that if you are a leftwing, post-nationalist, you aren't going to be impressed by anything I have to say here.

I start from the position of a liberal nationalist, one that sees the value for the flourishing of its citizens in a nation state. (On "liberal nationalism" you can read the good overview in the article on Nationalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) Because I am a liberal nationalist, I cannot be a statist Zionist, because by identifying the Jewish state as a state of the Jewish nation, I am automatically cutting off non-Jews from full membership in that state.

Moreover, I will always have to use what I consider dubious arguments to favor what I will call here ethnic Jews (as in ethnic Russians and ethnic Poles) at the expense of non-Jews who are citizens of the Jewish state.

Of course, one could make citizenship and nationality coextensive, so that anybody could become a Jew through the process of naturalization into the Jewish state. In that case, one could be a Muslim Jew, a Christian Jew, etc. But that would be a radical redefining of what it is to be a Jew.

A suggestion like that (from the other direction) was made by David Friedlaender, one of the enlightened Jews of Berlin in the eighteenth century. Friedlaender said that if the price to pay for German citizenship was being a Christian, why not have the entire Jewish community "convert" to Christianity en masse -- not, of course, traditional Christianity, but an enlightened version of Christianity which was devoid of Christian dogma. His proposal was turned down by enlightened Christians, for obvious reasons.

The point is that even if Jews do constitute a nation, or feel part of a nation, etc., it is not the sort of nation that liberal nation-states are constituted of, and for good reason -- it is a nation of which a national religion constituted a major part, whether one accepted it or rebelled against it, and, for better or for worse, that is the way it has played out in history.

The failure of Israel to be a liberal democracy and a nation-state of the Jews is well-known, and I hope I don't have to bring the familiar arguments. That fact that Israel is a settler-state founded on the thwarted national dreams of a native population compounds the problem, but, frankly, there would be problems even if Israel had been founded in a wilderness bereft of people.

But while Israel has, I believe, failed as a liberal state of the Jews, it need not be a failure as a liberal nation-state of all its people -- of the Israeli people, Jews and non-Jews, Palestinians and Jews.

I have lived in Israel on-and-off for over thirty years, and I can tell you that there is an Israeli national culture, and it is predominantly, though not exclusively, Hebraic and Jewish. Israeli Palestinian culture is also Israeli, and it is a culture which I admire and respect, and feel part of my own -- not as Jew, although I find it close to my own, but as an Israeli.

Within such a Israeli space, Jewish culture can flourish for those who want it to, and I think that in that sense, Israel could be a homeland for the Jewish people, a cultural center (note that I do not say, THE cultural center) that resonates with the historic associations of the Land of Israel for the Jewish people.

Look, I told you I was a Zionist, so if you are anti- or post- or non-, this won't speak to you. But for Zionism to flourish in a liberal democracy, one cannot have a Jewish state as constituted now. The law of return would have to be abolished -- in its stead could be an immigration law which favors certain groups (Jewish and Palestinian) but does not grant citizenship automatically to any quasi-religio-ethnic group. In such a state, one would not be forever counting heads to see whether there is a Jewish majority -- because at every moment, the state would consist of a 100% of Israeli citizens.

People say to me, "Why would any Jew would be interested to live in a state like that?" The funny thing is that the Jews who ask me this question actually do live in a state like that -- it is called the USA.

Other people say,"Hang on, but what happens in your Israeli state if a majority of its citizens are able to change the constitution in such a way as to reduce the Jewish component to a minimum?" My answer is simple: in that case, the citizens would have every right to do so. But so what? What's the point of a predominant culture if most of the state's citizens are opposed to it.

That is like saying that the idea of America is a bad one, because in principle, most of the citizens could change the constitution and vote America out of existence. Yes, but so what?

In this post I have left many things unexplained. But mostly I have been assuming that the present state of Israel, while it may be good for Judaism, is bad for liberal democracy. But I don't believe that. I believe that while there are positive things about the state of Israel, it, on the whole, has not been very good for Judaism. That I will leave for another rant, i.e., post.

But what I wanted to say here is that there can be zionism -- the feeling of the centrality of the Land of Israel for the Jewish people -- without a Jewish state as presently conceived. The conditions were not ripe for such a zionism in the forties, but they are much better now. And while I don't expect many people will agree with me -- on my right are the statist zionists, on my left are the post-nationalists, I don't see what is wrong about trying to preserve what is good about zionism, and, for that matter, the state of Israel, while pushing towards a more liberal and equitable regime, a second Israeli republic, as it were.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Henry Siegman's Piece on the "Middle East Peace Process Scam" in the London Review of Books

My epal Sam Bahour sent me today a brilliant piece entiled the "The Middle East Peace Process Scam" by Henry Siegman. Siegman, a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, was recently a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, and for many years president of the American Jewish Council. He is consistently one of the best commentators on Israel-Palestine.

A few years back, I had an email exchange with him, after I congratulated him on one of his NYRB pieces. I know some of his family quite well, and I told him that the fact that he came from an orthodox Jewish background was significant for me, that I thought his writing was a kiddush ha-Shem, a "sanctification of God's name." He thanked me, noting that this was not the sort of description he usually got from orthodox Jews!

It would be churlish and self-serving to point out that I wrote my Friday blog against the peace-process before Siegman -- it would also be obvious, since his long piece is so much better than mine!

Anyway, progressive bloggers out there (Richard, Daniel, et al.) would do well to publicize Siegman's pronouncements. The Olmert-Bush peace process is a scam...and a sham.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Short Takes -- Give the "Peace Process" a Rest

Here are two excellent insights into the labor zionist psyche from the Shabbat papers. The first is the opinion piece of veteran Haaretz columnist, Yoel Marcus, "It's Not All Talk." Let me describe his politics as moderate right.

Marcus's piece is to defend the "peace process," which is a magic word for most labor zionists. Against the skeptics he argues for the following points:

1. Settlements can be moved. Ariel Sharon proved that.

2. Nobody died from dialogue.

3. Talk has led to peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.

4. Oslo established Israel's "acknowledgment in principle of the Palestinians' right to a state of their own."

5. The November summit is the "last chance" to knock out the nerve settlements of "Islamic fundamentalism."

Each point speaks volumes for the self-deception and the continual misreading of the situation by a veteran Labor zionist like Marcus. Let me take them up one by one.

1. Ariel Sharon showed that settlers can be evacuated provided that this is not part of a peace settlement, that it is done in order to strengthen other settlements, and that millions of shekels are showered on the settlers. The only way he was able to sell it to the Israeli people was to argue that this was not part of a peace deal, but a way to forestall one. Sharon was the consummate Labor zionist.

2. Each "peace process" has failed and has generated explosions of violence in which Jews and mostly Palestinians have died. The "peace process" was uniformly good for Israelis and mostly bad for the Palestinians, except for the Fatah leadership.

3. Talk led to peace with Egypt and Jordan because peace with the post-colonial Arab countries was achievable since the 1940's, as Avi Shlaim has convincingly argued. Marcus makes the same mistake that most liberal Zionists make, which is to divide the Middle East into Jews and Arabs, whereas the natural division has been between states and non-states. Marcus seems to view "Palestine" as a state on the West Bank and Gaza that Israel occupies. Israel can then swap "land for peace," as it did with Arab states. But that is not at all the situation. For Israel to make true peace with the Palestinians, it has to confront its Zionist past, that the post-1948 borders are also an occupation of Palestine, and that the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians was not from Israel, but from Palestine. Even if you don't like my description, you can agree that there is a quantum difference between making peace with the Arab countries and making peace with the Palestinians. Failure to see that led to the debacle of Camp David II.

4. Israel has never acknowledged the right of the Palestinians to their own state of Palestine. Never. Never. Never.

5. Peace is made between states, not between ruling cliques, puppets, or parties. If Marcus wants to strike a blow in the "clash of civilizations," he should urge Mr. Olmert to negotiate officially with the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, including Hamas. Yossi Beilin realizes this, and I hope that most people who read this blog also realize this. It has certainly been confirmed by the foreign policy failures of the Bush administration.

I agree with Marcus on one point. He writes:

"Olmert has the last installment of the Winograd Committee report looming over him, along with a slew of criminal investigations and the possibility of a violent confrontation with the settlers - three threats that could bring him down. Focusing on peace could be his lifeline."

That certainly lets the cat of the bag. Israelis aren't prepared to make the hard decisions that will bring peace with the Palestinians -- I have lived here for thirty years, and it has only gotten worse -- but the center and the left are willing to reap the material benefits of the "peace process".

As for the second insight into the labor zionist psyche, read the interview with Ehud Barak, "No Peace with Palestinians Imminent" An older but wiser Barak sees no different between Fatah and Hamas, does not want to offer any confidence-building measures, and basically says what Israel always says -- let Abu Mazen prove that he is serious, and then, if he is good, we will let him have a state.

Ah, back to Barak's "generous offer..."

Just think what Ben-Gurion would have said to the British or the UN, if they had made a Jewish state contingent on the good behavior of the Zionists to the Arabs!

Shabbat Shalom,


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Aufwiedersehen, Wien

Ok, so I am leaving Vienna tonight to fly back to Galus, oops, Jerusalem.

Please read the post for today that I worked on.

, a Talmudic Precedent for a Just Solution, etc.

It is a bit heavy, but expresses my position pretty well, for what that's worth. And how many people do you know who argue for a Palestinian state based on the Mishnah?

Responses welcome.


More on Hebron -- also worth quoting in full

The Hebron tactic

By Amira Hass

For about 25 minutes, they behaved liked lords of the land: One man, followed later by a young guy, descended from Mitzpeh Yair, one of the unauthorized outposts in the southern Mt. Hebron area, and prevented a United Nations jeep from traveling. UN directives prohibit leaving the vehicle in such cases, in order to avoid an escalation of friction. And so we, three Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) staffers and two Haaretz journalists, were forced to watch them demonstrate their lordliness from inside the car: The older one blocked the vehicle, in the middle of the unpaved road, with his body. Using hand movements, he ordered the engine shut down. When that didn't happen, he jumped on the hood and then on the roof and back on the hood, and finally lay back on the windshield and played with the wipers, taking them apart. The driver progressed slowly down the track, and the man leaned back on the windshield with force, until it broke and shards went into the driver's eyes.

In the meantime, the younger guy appeared. He tried opening the doors of the jeep, screaming, "show me your identity cards" and placing big rocks in front of the wheels. By the time the army and police drove up, the older man yelled at Haaretz photographer Alex Levac: "Go back to where you came from." When he realized that Levac was a Jew and born in this country, he shouted: "Traitor, going with the UN." Both the older man and younger guy living at the outpost were born abroad. The younger man, a British citizen, has not yet been given new-immigrant status.

But what does that matter? It also didn't matter that the soldier described them as "problematic" and that the police are familiar with the older man from previous incidents of harassment. Nor did it matter that the police officers did not believe their absurd story that we had been in their olive grove and that we had tried to run the older man over. The tactic is one that is well-known from Hebron, the same tactic that helped to cleanse the Old City of most of its Palestinian residents: Jews harass and bully and then threaten to lodge complaints against their victims with the Israeli police.

Harassment and sabotage of a much more serious nature than what we experienced has become routine for the Palestinian shepherds and farmers in the area. As a result, about 850 of the 3,500 or so inhabitants of the area known as Masafer Yatta (Yatta's periphery) have left their habitations, in caves and tent encampments. Sometimes it is their access to water sources that is damaged, sometimes their herds, other times themselves. They have piles of papers attesting to the police complaints they have submitted. Until they stopped filing complaints.

It is easy to blame the two men, or those like them. But they practice terrorizing Palestinians because Israeli authorities let them do so.

In their own way, they do the same thing the "legitimate" occupation authorities do: They drive the Palestinians off their land to make room for Jews. In other words, they are following orders.

About 10 days ago, a Civil Administration inspector impounded a tractor and water tanker belonging to the Hadidyah, a community of farmers and herders in the northern Jordan Valley, as a pressure tactic aimed at getting them to leave their tent encampment on the grounds that it is located in a closed military area. They are one of dozens of communities that have been living in the valley for many decades. Since 1967 the Hadidyah have been displaced four times. Using all sorts of inventive tactics, the occupation authorities have turned these communities into unauthorized residents on their own land.

The springs and wells they used were turned over to the Mekorot Water Company: The water from the national company's drilling nearby is used by the "legitimate" settlers and its use by the Hadidyah is prohibited. As a result, they have to truck in water from a distant spring. The army has declared large areas of the valley firing zones. They end at the boundaries of the settlements.

The Israeli authorities have refused to rezone land to enable the community to live in the place the elders remember as their childhood home. But the adjacent land has been rezoned for the residence of Jews, Israeli citizens. Now the Civil Administration is hoping that thirst will drive them out of the piece of land allotted to them, which no longer has any land suitable for agriculture or grazing. That is Israel's policy toward the Palestinians in a nutshell, and talk of peace has not stopped it. The residents of the unauthorized outposts are merely imitating it and receiving both inspiration and protection from it.

Hebron Watch -- Beginning of the Redemption?

Worth quoting in full...

Last update - 09:34 09/08/2007 Evacuation orders issued to settlers in four Hebron stores

By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent

The Civil Administration has issued evacuation orders for four more Hebron stores where settlers squatted two years ago. The stores are located in the "triangle market," not far from the wholesale market from where two Jewish families were evacuated by Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday.

The evacuation order, which was issued following a petition by Peace Now, will not take place immediately as the settlers have appealed to the Judea and Samaria Appeals Committee, and their case will be heard in two weeks.

The stores in question are on Jewish-owned land that was inhabited by Jews until 1929, when Arabs massacred many members of the local community and the survivors fled.

But the settlers argue that aside from being on Jewish-owned land, the stores are an integral part of the Jewish Avraham Avinu neighborhood: They share common walls with the houses on the edge of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood's access road passes between them.

Between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan controlled Hebron, the stores were managed by the kingdom's custodian of enemy property. After Israel captured the territories in 1967, it upheld the leases that Palestinian shopkeepers had signed with the Jordanian body and gave them the status of protected tenants.

In 1994, following both Baruch Goldstein's massacre of Muslim worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs and a stabbing in the area, the IDF closed both the wholesale and triangle markets and forbade Palestinian merchants to enter. Some time later, after the squatters moved in, two of the merchants who had rented the stores asked Peace Now to approach the Civil Administration for an eviction order on their behalf.

The Civil Administration granted the order, ruling that the army's closure of the market did not cancel the tenants' rights to the stores, and that the Jewish squatters had no rights to the property. "This was a deliberate, planned and illegal act that challenged the rule of law in the city of Hebron," it wrote in its submission to the appeals committee.

Orit Struk, one of the leaders of Hebron's Jewish community, said the army prepared a defensive plan for the Hebron settlers "whose goal was to reduce to a minimum the number of [closed] Palestinian stores in the vicinity of the Jewish community," and this plan was approved by the military prosecution, the state prosecution and "every professional and political echelon."

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now retorted that the squatters were following the settlers' well-known recipe for "taking over properties in Hebron. The authorities see everything and know what has been done, but choose to ignore it and do nothing until a complaint is filed. Only when we threatened to go to the High Court of Justice did the system begin to move, and I hope that in the end, the squatters will be evacuated, as happened in the wholesale market."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Talmudic Precedent for a Just Solution to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

“Two are holding a garment. One says, ‘I found it’; one says, ‘I found it.’ One says, ‘All of it is mine’; one says, ‘All of it is mine.’ This one swears that he doesn’t own less than half of it; that one swears that he doesn’t own less than half of it, and they shall divide it.” (Mishnah Bava Mezi‘a 1.1)


The case cited in the third-century rabbinic law code is one in which two people claim exclusive ownership of an article of clothing. The claims are set forth in court. Each side claims to own the entire article by virtue of finding it. In Jewish law, one who finds an article has an obligation to return it to its owner. If the owner cannot be found, the finder can usually keep it. One can infer from the text that neither claimant is the original owner; in any case, the question of another owner is not considered. On the contrary, ownership of the garment cannot be established.

This last point is an important one. It may be that claimant A is indeed the exclusive owner, and claimant B is mistaken. The likelihood of their being joint owners (say, they found and grabbed the garment simultaneously) is remote, though not impossible. But all that is irrelevant. The court does not recognize anybody as an owner.

What is to be done in such a case? First, each claimant takes an oath. In Jewish law, as in other systems of law, judicial oaths are administered in order to prevent false testimony and frivolous claims. Because of the willingness to take the oath we can assume that each side genuinely believes that it is the exclusive owner of the garment.

Why does each swear that he does not own less than half of the garment? Why not have each swear that he is the exclusive owner, if that is what he believes? One answer is that this would involve a falsehood, for it is impossible for both to be exclusive owners. The sides have to swear to claims that are in practice reconcilable. However – and this is important -- the claimants do not swear that they own exactly half -- because they actually believe that they own the whole garment. So by swearing that they do not own less than half, they do not publicly renounce their claims to ownership of the whole. By accepting the division, and by advancing more modest claims under oath, they signal to each other and to the court that they are willing to accept half.

All this is done before a court because the claims are irreconcilable and the claimants cannot come to a reasonable compromise, even one brokered by the court. This is a case where an agreed-upon compromise is impossible or impractical; the final ruling is imposed by a court that is neutral and expert.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

The Zionist and Palestinian nationalist movements have appeared before the international community as claimants to Palestine for close to a century. Each has claimed the right to exclusive hegemony over the territory of Palestine/the Land of Israel. To this day neither side recognizes the justice of the other side’s claims. One side – Israel – has made the other side’s recognition of the justice of its claims a precondition of its willingness to sign a peace treaty. In all the proposed Israel peace plans, the Palestinians have been required to recognize that Jews have a right to a state in Palestine, or that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state. This differs from the principle underlying the Mishnah, where neither side is forced to renounce publicly its belief in its exclusive ownership.

To require of the Palestinian people, as a precondition of their statehood, that they recognize the right of Jews to a state in Palestine, is about as reasonable as to require of the Jewish people, as a precondition for living with Christians, that they recognize the messiahship of Jesus. It is sufficient that both Palestinian and Israel sign a peace treaty. Neither has to yield its most cherished – and incommensurable – beliefs.

Second, we learn from the Mishnah that when two sides are unable to come to a fair agreement, an agreement is imposed. I say “fair” agreement because sometimes the balance of power is so lopsided that any mutual agreement perpetuates inequities. That is one of the reasons why I oppose Israeli-Palestinian bilateral negotiation – in the past, Palestinians, because of their relative weakness, have agreed to Israeli positions that do not begin to meet the demands of fairness, and hence, foster bitterness and hostility, the breeding grounds of terrorism and extremism, which in turn sow the seeds of the breakdown of the agreement.

Finally, the Mishnah rules that both sides divide the garment equally. Any peace settlement or agreement that favors one side at the expense of the other, or perpetuates existing inequities, is unjust – and bound to fail for the reasons mentioned above. And even without these bad consequences, an unfair agreement is wrong. Whether we are talking about two states, a binational state, or a federation, neither side can dominate the other. “Neither to rule or to be ruled” -- this was the leftwing Zionist slogan when the Jews constituted a fraction of Palestine’s population – and at the time it was dismissed by the Palestinians. As soon as the Zionists got the upper hand, they dismissed it as well. It is time to make that slogan a reality.

I have lived in Israel for over thirty years, and to this day, I know of virtually no Israeli within the so-called national consensus who favors a genuine two-state solution. Don’t believe what Benny Morris, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Tom Segev, Amos Oz, Shimon Peres, or any of the so-called Israeli “moderates” or “leftists” tell you. They are all in favor of a one-state/one-“state” solution, where the former is a powerful state with an independent economy, foreign affairs, and military, and the other is a “state-minus,” in which the Palestinians are allowed a certain degree of autonomy provided that they don’t pose a threat to the first state. Even the much-vaunted Geneva Initiative perpetuates inequities when it proposes that a Palestinian state be left without a modern Palestinian defence force, without making a similar demand of Israel – even though one hundred years of Zionism teaches us that the Palestinians have much more to fear from the Zionists than vice-versa. Only one side has ever actually wiped the other’s country off the map – and it wasn’t the Palestinian side.

Better we should go back to the Mishnah. An imposed solution of an equal division of territory, with neither side giving up its narrative or its most cherished beliefs, and with neither side coming out with more hegemony than the other – that is the ethical archimedian point from which we should begin to examine the situation.

I am not offering the Mishnah here as a practical legal precedent for international relations. Rather, I am using it to illustrate how one can bring Jewish tradition and precedent to bear upon this case. If one is concerned with a just solution, then there are certain minimum requirements of fairness. To see how those requirements stand behind elements of the Jewish legal tradition is of relevance in doing Jewish ethics. Some people learn those minimum requirements in kindergarten; others in cheder.

It seems to me that Jews who care about their Judaism should seek to invoke Jewish precedents as well as non-Jewish precedents when discussing the morality of the decision which calls itself Jewish. I am not saying that they have to – I don’t need to find a verse from the Torah to justify my ethical beliefs – but it looking for Jewish precedents is a legitimate exercise for those who value their tradition..

Of course, if you come up with the same solution via a different route, that is fine with me, too!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Principles of Torah Morality according to Tony Soprano (Dov Lior, Moshe Levinger, Shlomo Riskin, Mordecai Eliyahu, Hanan Porat, Elyahim Levanon, etc.)

In my previous post, I talked about how one should go about doing Jewish ethics, and I suggested to look for the broad ethical assumption behind specific Jewish legal rulings. But the broad ethical assumptions are also subject to debate.

Consider the following statements that are much-cited by rightwing rabbis and that Tony Soprano could enthusiastically endorse

1. Get the other guy before he gets you.

2. Don't take pity on your enemies.

3. Only take care of your own folks.

The classical statements,in Hebrew, go as follows:

1. Ha-Kam le-horgkeha, hashkem le-horego

2. Kol ha-merahem al-ha-akhzarim, etc.

3. Aniye Irkha Kodemim.

All three principles are found in rabbinic sources. The first one is the rule of self-defence. If somebody rises up to kill you, get up early to kill him. The discussion in rabbinic sources tells us how to apply the specific law of when somebody sneaks into your house, but it does not address the question where or how to apply the broad ethical principle behind the law. What is legitimate self-defence? There is, of course, legal discussion -- but what of the ethics behind it?

The second principle says, "Whoever has mercy on the cruel people, will end by being cruel to merciful people." Let us call this a conservative defence of retributive justice -- letting criminals off without punishment is bad for the society. While the principle is prima facie reasonable, questions of definition and application also inevitably arise.

The third principle says that when you have to choose between giving charity to the poor of your own city, and those of a foreign city, you should first take care of your own. A fine statement of preferential morality, and, again, in accordance with common sense morality.

Now, Tony Soprano has his good points, but on the whole he is not a moral person. If he lives his life according to the aforementioned Jewish principles, does that mean that they are unethical? But we have seen that they seem reasonable according to common-sense morality.

The problem, of course, is that these are Soprano's only principles, the one he constantly appeals to, and the one he constantly interprets according to his own unethical desires. The problem is not in the principles themselves, but in the way they are used by an immoral agent.

And so we come to the the aformentioned West Bank rabbis, who have reduced Torah morality by their selective reading and overemphasis, based on their perverse ultra-nationalism and religious fundamentalism, to mafia morality.

You see, it may come down to personal morality after all. If the person applying a moral principle herself possesses a vicious moral character, the application of the principle is perverse.

Maimonides notes that physically ill people taste sweet things as bitter and bitter things as sweet. So, too, people who are sick in the soul, i.e., have vicious character traits.

The Jewish ethical and legal tradition can indeed be sweet, but in the hands of a hard-hearted rabbi the illiberal elements can triumph, and then Torah becomes a sam ha-mavvet, a potion of death.

Egoistic ultranationalism and an inability to understand the other has poisoned these rabbis. Whenever they open their mouths on questions of Israel/Palestine, they desecrate God's name in public.

Jewish Ethics and the Question of Justice for Palestinians and Israelis -- Part One

How does one do Jewish ethics? That is, how does one appeal to the Jewish tradition for ethical guidance? Of course, one needn’t be interested in doing so, but if one is – then what is a good way of going about it?

Ask most orthodox Jews, especially rabbis, about Jewish ethics and they will answer you with Jewish law. You want to talk about the morality of abortion according to Jewish sources? Euthenasia? Homosexuality? The rabbis will consult what other (orthodox) rabbis have said about these topics in their law books and responsa. They will try to convince you that Jewish law (halakha) and Jewish ethics (musar) are not only coextensive, but that the latter is reducible to the former.

The halakhicization of Jewish ethics is a recent development in the history of Jewish literature. Alongside the extensive Jewish legal literature, there is an even more extensive Jewish ethical (musar) literature, which, if one looks at the number of manuscripts and printed editions, reached a much larger audience than the small, professional class of jurists that read the legal literature. To consider contemporary issues in light of classical Jewish ethical sources, one needs apparently to take into consideration this literature.

Unfortunately, the musar literatue is of little help in dealing with social and political morality. Most of the classical manuals of Jewish ethics deal with personal morality, specifically, with the virtues an individual should seek and the vices she should avoid. Personal morality is not immediately relevant to determining the rightness or wrongness of social acts, practices, or principles.

But if we leave out both halakha and musar, what do we have left for doing Jewish ethics?

Well, we could take the route of non-orthodox Jewish thinkers, which is to try to appeal to broad ethical imperatives from the Jewish tradition (“Seek peace”; “Pursue justice”; Sanctify God’s Name”). The problem here is that these principles are vacuous without some sort of specification; they can be enthusiastically upheld by people with moral sensibilities as disparate as those of Martin Buber and Meir Kahane. How does one pursue justice? How does one sanctify God’s name? How does one adjudicate conflicts between principles?

Again, to achieve specific Jewish ethical guidance, the orthodox will reach for their law codes and rabbinical responsa. As an orthodox Jew, I have no problem claiming that Jewish law can and should be a source of Jewish ethical reflection. This does not mean adopting the modern orthodox fallacy (heresy?) of reducing ethics to law. Rather it means that precedents can be brought from the Jewish legal tradition not only to determine Jewish law, but also to uncover the broad ethical assumptions on which that law is based. In most cases, these broad ethical assumptions will have nothing specifically “Jewish” about them. Derekh eretz kadmah le-Torah General morality precedes Jewish morality. But how they are specified may be instructive about how we can go about doing Jewish ethics.

In a subsequent post I will apply these general reflections to the question of justice for Israelis and Palestinians.

Time to learn some Mishnah…